“The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities—even within the same school.”
On March 2, Arne Duncan, our nation’s Secretary of Education described a fact that I think many of us can admit we’ve observed throughout our educated lives: color lines are everywhere we turn. In this modern day and age, these lines aren’t explicitly drawn—they’re easy to miss when caught up in one’s own privilege—so it’s safe to say that teachers who blatantly deprive minority students of help and equal resources aren’t teachers for long. But what about the teachers and administrators who choose not to believe a Latino student when she insists she really did turn in the homework for chapter three? Or the teacher who places his/her black student into Algebra instead of Honors, because she just doesn’t seem very ambitious or interested in math?
I myself am a prude little Asian girl who’s experienced the sweeter end of racially biased treatment from teachers. I’m missing two assignments in my programming class, but my instructor told me on the down-low that, if my grade was suffering at the end of term, he’d simply drop the assignments from my points altogether. My black classmate who is missing the same two assignments has to go speak with the professor to “figure it out.” I don’t have enough evidence to charge my instructor with racial bias, but I know enough about Asian stereotypes, and I know I haven’t kissed up enough to merit his apparent stamp of “integrity.”
Oftentimes, the decisions and judgments that teachers and administrators make on a daily basis about their students are laced with racial bias. This isn’t intentional –teachers aren’t trying to deprive certain groups of students of equal opportunity and treatment, but it is deadly because the social inequality symptoms in today’s education and disciplinary system are subtle, hard to measure, and too easy to absolve.
Thomas Sowell, a writer for the National Review, justifies the harsher disciplinary action that minorities face with the reasoning that maybe Black and Latino students are disrupting, smoking, skipping more class than their majority counterparts, and therefore meriting the harsher and more frequent punishments from administrators:
“If black males get punished more often than Asian-American females, does that mean that it is somebody else’s fault? That it is impossible that black males are behaving differently from Asian-American females?”
Aside from the fact that Sowell’s above argument compares two groups on opposite ends of the spectrum, his argument is also flawed in that it doesn’t acknowledge the statistic that shows more black students than white students being punished for the SAME offenses. The two groups are behaving identically, but receiving segregated degrees of punishment. Huh. How lazy and dumb of Sowell to overlook this research. Even more, how unjustified, unfair, and scary of teachers to create this statistic in the first place.
It’s especially scary that color can trigger certain judgments, and therefore fabricate, magnify, or erase students’ character flaws and attitude problems. It’s scary that teachers can heavily punish their students, even with jail, based on these judgments. It’s scary that these subjective punishments can forever change the course of a student’s academic life, and therefore, her entire standard of living and future. So…any suggestions?
By: Michelle Lu
(Photo by Tom Woodward under a Creative Commons license)